While the majority of book industry coverage at the moment is focused on ebooks and the latest developments in the tablet and ereader race, Publishing Trends wanted to focus briefly on publishers’ internal structures: how are they meeting all these new digital demands from a human resources standpoint? Initially we planned to write an article looking at workflow and how digital departments are structured within major publishers, but our research indicated these areas are still in a state of profound flux. So we changed our approach to look at how publishers are hiring for these departments, in the hope of using these findings as a stepping stone to better understand how publishers are building their digital departments and positioning themselves for the future.
“It’s still early for digital in the book space. There’s frankly not a huge amount of people with a lot of the right experience,” said Bob Nelson, President of the Digital Group at Baker & Taylor. “Digital books have really just emerged strongly over the last 3-4 years. So, we look for people who were pioneers in that space. People with content distribution, publishing, or digital media background.”
For David Bronstein, recently appointed Chief Talent Officer at Perseus who also has a background in the advertising and music industries, there are many ways to approach building a digital infrastructure within a company. “For some, digital is being woven into the existing business—that’s one hiring model. Others think that digital needs to be placed on a separate track for the near term while its revolutionary potential is developed.” In the case of creating digital departments separate from other aspects of the business, the question of leadership is key. “Each company will have to decide how to lead the transformation – with or without cross-functional teams, for example, and / or dedicated leadership at the C-Suite level (e.g. Chief Digital Officer.) These are important decisions that will shape your strategy and execution.”
In its People Roundup feature from 2011, Publishing Trends reported on 45 people who have moved into digital positions, 14 of which were newly created. Random House had the most with 10 hires. 7 of those 10 were filled in June with the creation of a digital channel and marketing development department within the corporate digital group, which was organized under Madeline McIntosh. Norton and Simon & Schuster also underwent reorganization, with Norton’s College division appointing four emedia positions to meet increased demand for digital products, and at S&S, Samantha Cohen’s promotion to Director, Digital Content Development positioned her to staff, train, and manage the dedicated Digital Content Development department.
External hires for executive digital positions also indicated that there is a trend of publishers hiring from outside the industries. Jeff Dodes headed the Marketing and Digital Media department for Sony’s Jive Label Group before being hired as EVP, Marketing and Digital Media Strategy for St. Martin’s, and Peter Phillips became the SVP and GM of the Digital Media Group for Marvel after serving as EVP for the digital customer service channel, LivePerson. “Frankly any media background would be relevant – physical or digital – including music, video and gaming,” said Nelson. “The key is someone with a lot of fresh ideas, who can grasp the complexity of the publishing industry. In terms of getting the big ideas implemented, we hire a lot of development people – preferably from a media background as well. They need to be technically proficient and able to synthesize a lot of requirements. The concept of ‘digital’ goes way beyond the book, into how stores are merchandized, what formats the content is available in, and when and where consumers want to consume that content.” Just this past month, Chantal Restivo-Alessi was hired as Chief Digital Officer at HarperCollins, taking over many of the duties held previously by Charlie Redmayne. She was most recently Head of Media Corporate Finance at ING Bank, and has a background at EMI Music and consulting.
When hiring from outside publishing, leadership and communication skills are as important as technical know-how. “We want someone who can think strategically and has a vision,” Bronstein explained. “We need leaders who can articulate that vision and translate it to practical application. We also go for digital people with business acumen, who can ground digital experiments and plans in a business context that can actually be executed, monetized, and implemented. Candidates should also have at least 10 years of expertise for an executive position.”
“It’s an interesting time in publishing, as the industry is seeing that digital platforms and channels are affecting how consumers are discovering, evaluating, and purchasing products,” added Kate Hartnick Elliott, President of Hartnick Search, who has done executive searches for a range of industries and positions, including ecommerce, marketing, media, and nonprofit . “Publishers are looking to senior marketing managers to evaluate how those platforms and channels should be incorporated into their business planning; how they should (or should not) change the ways in which they engage with consumers. Publishers are open to hiring people who are not from the publishing world, but have successful track records of helping organizations in other sectors negotiate the strategic and operational shifts necessary during similar transitions.”
What other trends has this past year held for digital executive hires? “In the past few year, companies were able to take their time hiring; this is less true this year. Companies that delay interviews and making decisions are finding that candidates are being offered and are accepting other first rate offers, said Hartnick Elliott, commenting on the increasing speed in which publishers need to act now to secure top digital candidates. “The caveat is that we are still in a touch-and-go economy, and a number of external events could cause a change in business confidence, which would of course slow hiring once more.”
Bronstein agrees that speed to market is important, not just in the amount of time it takes to make an offer, but to the industry as a whole: “Things are changing so unbelievably rapidly that if you lose 6 months in the game due to bad decisions, it could set you back six years.” He also added that, in addition to speed, salary is also an important aspect of hiring top candidates. “If you want top notch talent because they bring something that you haven’t seen in the industry, you may have to pay more,” he said.
There seem to be positive hiring numbers overall and with increased ereading devices on the market, the need for digital-savvy leaders is not decreasing. “Companies need people who understand and value content and who also understand that the world is changing,” Hartnick Elliott insisted. “It’s about understanding the existing culture and protecting and nurturing what’s strong about it, while leading the organization through times of necessary evolution.”